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15 May 2020 | in Summer FISU World University Games

Spotlight: Remembering the Mexico City 1979 Summer Universiade

Take a trip back through 60 years of Universiade history. The 19th stop on the FISU history tour brings us to the high-altitude Mexican capital for the Mexico City 1979 Summer Universiade

MexicoCity 1979 poster

The Mexico City 1979 Summer Universiade marked the Games’ venture into yet another continent in its 10th edition, this time to North America and it turned out to be the biggest Universiade yet.


With eager, experienced organisers and the ready-made facilities from the 1968 Olympic Games and the 1970 FIFA World Cup that the Mexican capital hosted, the Summer Universiade had all the recipes for success. A record 2,974 athletes from 94 countries took part in the Universiade, with the Estadio Olimpico Universitario welcoming 70,000 people for the Opening and Closing Ceremonies.

MexicoCity torch relayThe torch relay helped build up intense interest and enthusiasm for the first Summer Universiade to be held on North American soil

A proud Mexico President Jose Lopez Portillo spoke glowingly of the 11-day competition: “Sports are a higher form of culture. This is the reason for our support to the University Games.


“When the flame reaches the stadium, a journey of 6,382 kilometres on foot will be accomplished, which involved 62 institutions on medium and higher education and 2,150 runners.”

MexicoCity ticket

With Mexico City’s high altitude – at more than 2,240 metres with 25 percent less oxygen than sea level – the athletes’ performances were affected for better or worse, as handouts were issued to help them acclimatise to the circumstances.


pietro mennea1Italian athlete Pietro Mennea was one of those who capitalised on Mexico City’s geographic location, setting a world record in the men’s 200 meters that would last almost two decades until 1996, when legendary American sprinter Michael Johnson finally rewrote Mennea’s mark of 19.72 seconds.


Mennea was far from being the only athlete to be in tiptop form at the Mexico City Universiade, which many used as a stepping stone for the Moscow Olympics pencilled into the calendar one year later. Among the future Olympic medallists who were in the field were Soviet gymnasts Maria Filatova and Bogdan Makouts; French fencers Pascale Trinquet and Pascal Jolyot; and the United States’ Kevin McHale, who led the men’s basketball team to a gold medal.


Some 48,000 fans of the host nation were on hand for the football final, which saw Mexico beat Uruguay 5-3 to top the podium for its lone gold.

MexicoCity officialposter